Review of ‘The One and Only Ivan’


February 2, 2012

The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate. $16.99. Ages 8-12.

If a big, majestic silverback gorilla who lived in a cage at a circus could speak, what would he say?

“Humans waste words. They toss them like banana peels and leave them to rot. Everyone knows the peels are the best part.”

“My family tree spreads wide as well. I am a great ape, and you are a great ape and so are chimpanzees and orangutans and bonobos, all of us distant and distrustful cousins.”

Ivan is the gorilla in this fictional book, which is written completely from his perspective. Reading the book is a bit like reading a journal. The story isn’t told in great long paragraphs of action but instead by stringing together Ivan’s thoughts about his life in the circus, his friends Stella the elephant and Bob the dog, and his art. Yes, Ivan the gorilla is a wonderful artist, but there is something sad about Ivan; something is missing from his life.

“I know what most humans think. They think gorillas don’t have imaginations. They think we don’t remember our pasts or ponder our futures. Come to think of it, I suppose they have a point. Mostly I think about what is, not what could be. I’ve learned not to get my hopes up.”

That is, until Ruby, a baby elephant, shows up at the circus and changes everything for Ivan.

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